Irony in Sportswear

I’d like to begin by sharing a little story, in light of Dayn’s earlier ruminations on the subject of jerseys. Once I found myself on the streets of Incheon, South Korea, ambling through the busy alleys and marveling at the pernicious weed that is capitalism. It was at this time that I came across a store stocked entirely with baseball jerseys. No knockoffs, these uniforms had stitched lettering and all the amenities one looks for in a piece of cotton. Among the three I chose was branded with the name “Kendall”.

When I returned home that night, I was shocked and dismayed to learn that the Pirates jersey was of the sleeveless variety. This was a risk I had not even thought to assess, and I swore to return to the shop and exchange it. But the store had vanished; it was as if the whole affair was some sort of monkey’s-paw cliché, and I would end up making eighteen wishes, each more damning than the last. After wandering the nameless streets we finally did find the store, decked out completely in basketball regalia. Would they exchange my armless jersey? I asked. No, they said. They did not sell baseball jerseys, they said. They sold basketball jerseys. I could not prove them wrong, and so to this day Jason Kendall’s name hangs in my closet.

I tell this tale not only in a desperate attempt to entertain, but also to raise a vital question: what, in 2011 terms, is my Pirates jersey worth? One must admit that it wields the benefit of insulating one’s shoulders and torso, if not the upper arms. The ethical question of sportswear is, I think, a tired one: we have had enough of people telling us whether it is acceptable for grown men and women to wear jerseys. The fan jersey now rests on the same cultural footing as Bud Light Lime, reality television, and the wave. Like it or not, it’s not going away.

Meanwhile, we live in a conflux where fashion will soon descend upon itself, consuming its own tail like an ouroboros. Everything will be both fashionable and unfashionable at the same time, and taste and irony will meet on the event horizon. We are not there yet. There are still some jerseys that fall between, and evoke neither the glory of success nor the wry wit of failure: the Chris Davis jersey, for example, or a Mets Brad Emaus uniform. But just as in life and The Room, if one sinks low enough (and patronizes thrift stores) one can find true brilliance. What better way to celebrate absurdity than a Mike Piazza Marlins jersey? Or an authentic Jeff Francoeur?

But what of Jason Kendall?  Was he good enough in his prime to merit recognition?  Was he awful enough in his thirties to be funny?  Should the jersey be permanently dirt-stained, to confer the appropriate level of grit and heart?  It’s a question each of you as Americans must decide.  And if you do think it’s worth wearing, I could probably find one to sell you.

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Patrick Dubuque writes for NotGraphs and The Hardball Times, and he served as former Bill Spaceman Lee Visiting Professor for Baseball Exploration at Pitchers & Poets. Follow him on Twitter @euqubud.

16 Responses to “Irony in Sportswear”

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  1. Wede says:

    I think a Texas Rangers Canseco jersey is the best worst jersey out there if anybody has one.

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    • Patrick says:

      Hard to criticize Canseco as the ironic Rangers jersey of choice. The trouble with Texas is that their worst players are pretty obscure; I’d never even heard of George Wright or Lloyd Allen before.

      Still, if you were somehow able to employ a seamstress, no mind could wrap itself around a 1982 Doug Flynn Rangers jersey. The fabric would suck all the failure out of a room and contain it, leaving only happiness and triumph behind.

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  2. steex says:

    I am the proud owner of a Cardinals home John Mabry jersey. No, I’m not John Mabry.

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  3. harpago17 says:

    I’m a big fan of deadline acquisitions that immediately leave the team for free agency. Houston Astros Beltran jersey, Braves or Angels Teixeria jersey, Rangers Cliff Lee jersey are all pretty good.

    And of course, the holy grail, a Manny Ramirez Rays jersey.

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  4. sdfgvhj says:

    I figure a Brad Eamus is much more ironic than a jersey of someone who is just godawful.

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  5. PG says:

    I’m a proud owner of a game worn 1993 Toronto Blue Jays Luis Sojo jersey.

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  6. Pat says:

    A Jose Bautista Mets jersey would be pretty entertaining.

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  7. James says:

    How about an Adam Dunn “Natinals” Jersey. Not exactly as ironic as it would be fun to wear.

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  8. My echo and bunnymen says:

    I own a Greg Maddux Padres jersey.

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  9. sktimmons says:

    I wouldn’t mind having a Cecil Fielder Blue Jays jersey. Or for that matter, a Cecil Fielder Hanshin Tigers jersey.

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  10. phoenix2042 says:

    a Rangers Arod jersey. I love the above idea of the Rays Manny Ramirez jersey. Angels Vernon Wells (just cuz lol at the Angels). Angles Brandon Wood (because it’s painful when that top prospect up and coming jersey turns into that bottom of the drawer prospect bust). I feel like Sam Fuld jerseys will be ironic in a couple months.

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  11. foxtrot says:

    The Room is a masterpiece of cinema don’t talk down on it.

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  12. DPR says:

    O’s authentic Sammy Sosa jersey. I also have the Nolan Reimold t-shirt Tuesday shirt that was given out a few weeks after he was demoted to Norfolk. sigh…

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